AMD Does Not Believe in Intel's Thunderbolt

AMD: Thunderbolt Is Just Another Proprietary Standard

by Anton Shilov
02/28/2011 | 04:32 PM

Advanced Micro Devices, the second largest supplier of x86 microprocessors on the globe and the designer of half of the world's discrete graphics adapters, said that Intel Corp.'s recently introduced Thunderbolt input/output technology will become just another proprietary standard with not a lot of chances to be adopted widely. The chip designer also doubted that the TB actually brings any tangible improvements.


"Existing standards offer remarkable connectivity and together far exceed the 10Gb/s peak bandwidth of Thunderbolt. These solutions meet and exceed the bandwidth utilization of many peripherals," a spokesperson for AMD said.

AMD did not take part in the development of Thunderbolt technology and therefore will not be able to support it natively in the foreseeable future. In addition, the company does not see a lot of prospects for Thunderbolt in the short-term future as it does not substantially outperform current generation I/O technologies and sometimes even offers lower bandwidth. Coupled with the lack of devices that really take advantage of extreme throughput and the fact that Thunderbolt is a proprietary tech for now, the situation does not seem to be good for the interconnection.

"The DisplayPort1.2 standard offers up to 17Gb/s of peak bandwidth for displays. [...] Many AMD-based platforms support USB 3.0 which offers 4.8Gb/s of peak bandwidth, AMD natively supports SATA 6Gb/s with our 8-series chipsets. [Meanwhile], the total bandwidth stated for a Thunderbolt channel is only 20% higher than one PCI Express 3.0 lane and about 52% higher than a single USB 3.0 port," claimed the official for AMD.

The designer of graphics processors also pointed out that Thunderbolt uses the mini DisplayPort connector and that the solution [when actually utilized] essentially reduces bandwidth available for displays connected to the mDP port. For example, AMD recently announced a multi-stream technology with the Radeon HD 6800-series graphics cards that enables a single cable to link multiple displays for additional display flexibility employing AMD Eyefinity technology. Essentially, this multi-display tech if implemented into a laptop, will not be compatible with TB.

"Employing Thunderbolt in the DisplayPort connector implementation decreases the bandwidth available for DisplayPort reducing the bandwidth available for various multi-display configurations," stated the company.

Although manufacturers of external hard disk drives, such as Seagate Technologies and Western Digital, do support Thunderbolt and plan to introduce HDDs featuring the interconnector later this year, it is clear that only high-speed solid-state drives will be able to actually utilize 10Gb/s of bandwidth. In fact, there are generally no devices - apart from external graphics processors - that can use 10Gb/s of bandwidth over the PCI Express protocol. Moreover, graphics cards actually require more than 10Gb/s. All-in-all, the actual market prospects of Thunderbolt seem rather gloomy.

"Consumers generally benefit by having standard, high-speed ports available on their mobile devices. Proprietary ports, or the requirement of a dongle to employ those industry-standard ports may be an obstacle to consumers having the full computing experience at home or on the road," assumed the official for AMD.

Previously known as Light Peak, Thunderbolt technology supports two low-latency communications protocols - PCI Express for data transfer and DisplayPort for displays. Thunderbolt technology works on data streams in both directions, at the same time, so users get the benefit of full bandwidth in both directions, over a single cable. With the two independent channels, a full 10Gb/s of bandwidth can be provided for the first device in the chain of the devices. All Thunderbolt technology devices share a common Mini DisplayPort connector. Intel's Thunderbolt controllers interconnect a PC and other devices, transmitting and receiving packetized traffic for both PCIe and DisplayPort protocols and thus makers need to develop or use additional controllers to make their products compatible with the TB I/O interface.

Intel claims that the adoption rate of the new I/O technology will not be considerably limited. Still, it is aimed currently at professionals rather than on typical consumers.

"The combination of the very fast data transfer and beyond-HD display support on a single slender cable has great appeal for HD media creators, especially who work on laptops. Those same features also solve the big challenges posed by the growing HD media libraries many of us now own," a spokesman for Intel said last week.